Tomaso De Giovanni
In which our hero spots a known and welcome landmark, slakes his thirst, struggles with some rough terrain, despairs over conference venues, reaches his first camp, and admires a fountain.
The tree, so different from the fig tree, was another heartbreak, as he felt his body move away, up the grade, oblique but now brighter with sunlight filtering through the crown canopy, standing, like the donkey, but so much more, both in number and in, what, expertise? Trees were excellent at standing. Franco felt the same warmth and respect for the donkey that he felt for the goat. The donkey was a good stander too.
There was the black plastic tube hanging from the branches, obvious now that Franco had seen it. The tube, who knew who had put it there, or when, carried water from a fountain high up on the hill, filled by a spring that rose up out of the ground, fed by a hill above it. Franco found the end and filled his bottle, afraid to drink from it, not because he thought he would catch any germs, but because he would spread his own, fearing the censure of the others more than the chance that he would pass out from thirst, despite the sunny coolness that surrounded him. Once his bottle was filled, he raised it to his mouth and took a deep drink, relieved but sorry to be washing away the last vestiges of the trance that had put him in such delicious relation with the tree, the nameless, type-less tree that had emerged for him from among all the others. This is what he needed to do at Davos. It was not trees that mattered, or whatever they wanted him to talk about, it was seeing a tree that was important. How was he supposed to say that?
Marcello Mastroianni in the woods. That is what was needed: the handsome romantic, who nevertheless chooses to play the fool, because he is so much better at it, because that is what is inside him. This is what the woods needed and this is what Davos needed. But this was not Franco. Or it was, a bit, the jokey woodsman, the glancing forester. With his thirst slaked, hunger fell upon him. The cheese in the sandwich that he fished out of his backpack repulsed him, reminded him of a herd of steer being led down a mountain path, unsure of why they were in the mountains to begin with, strangely out of place, it seemed, just as the cows lactating on the beach in Hong Kong seemed not to belong. But why? Cows to pasture, cougars to the hills? Is that the way it was or was supposed to be? Mountain lions sneak into the cities looking for water now. Where were the cows supposed to be? Flatlands? What about horses, always the planes?
Franco would sleep at the other end of the tube, but it was still a ways away. He wished in a way that he could follow it, but not even a bird could do that, a squirrel maybe. Franco sometimes took shortcuts and always regretted it. How frightened he became when he left the trail, forced to reconcile himself to the oblique hillsides that made him fall to all fours, straining muscles as he struggled against gravity, wet leaves and confusion. Direction was no longer clear on these hillsides, which seemed to slope both up and down at the same time, no matter his stance, sending one foot one way and the other foot another way, stressing knees and groin in a way that instilled an existential panic that not even thirst or hunger has ever provoked. Is this what it was like to be an animal? Living a roadless life like this? Living on such hostile geometry?
Finally, after a fearful eternity, Franco made it back to a more or less level path. The terror of his rumination, cows again, followed by the realization that his two feet were once more, by some fortunate accident, on level ground, filled Franco first with fear and then with elation. Safe on the ground, sunlight, food and water on him and in him where they should be, Franco was human again. But he thought of the tree and the feeling he had when he laid his hand on its bark, and he thought about it, and thought about it, and thought about it.
The camp at the end of the tube always left Franco stunned by beauty. Why was being there so important, and why did the water from the fountain not taste as good as the water from the tube? Surely it must taste better at the source, or at least it should. Franco thought that the problem was in the should. Descriptive, normative, ontological, epistemological. Might as well throw myself back into the idea game, he thought, the scene at Davos clearly in his mind, but he knew that such a path would lead to death by boredom. There had to be another way.
Conference hotels, with their meeting rooms and lobbies; it was a scene that was marked, for the most part, by that thin veneer of adhesive on the back of the name tags that everyone was expected to wear. Franco despaired over what happened to the wool fibers of his jacket when they became coated by it. Arriving at every check-in table, he always tried to find a way to tuck the tag into his breast pocket so that he would not have to peel off the backing to expose the noxious adhesive. Once on a plane he flipped through a book on origami to see if one of the forms would help him, maybe by causing a hook to pop out of the back so that he could just hang the tag on his pocket. Sometimes the tags were plastic sleeves with metal safety pins on the back that could be opened and threaded through the material of his coat, but even that method, although much better than the chemical warfare promised by the adhesive, caused worry. Would the metal pin separate two fibers who had clung to each other through all that was required to make the jacket, through the shearing and carding and threading and weaving and dying and cutting and sewing and shaping and ironing? What if it actually pierced one of them? Sometimes Franco’s animism got the better of him.
It was good to sit down. As much as Franco liked walking, there was a time to walk and a time to stop walking, and this was it. Cool summer mountain air, fresh green grass, the concrete fountain made as if it had been made by a fourteen-year-old. Sometimes Franco felt he was seventeen but other times he felt fourteen, before sexual experience, self-contained, adolescent in a true sense, before fully entering the complicated seine of human relations. The mountain and the fountain were pals at this point, and perhaps nothing else gave Franco a sense of wellbeing more than that. It made the idea of what lie ahead for him at Davos suddenly relaxed, exciting and attractive, all at the same time. We have to do it, don’t you see?, Franco thought. The friendly concrete, solid and stable, mixed happily with the water and the metal, the metal rusting in a gesture of humility and generosity that so filled Franco with pride and hope that he could barely contain the feeling within him. Yes, Davos, do you understand now? Franco asked of no one in particular, of everyone in general, and most of all, in his own mind.